News

May 19, 2016

Rodney ratepayers in for a shock

Ratepayers' Alliance members in Rodney have been in contact with us about the enormous effort Auckland Council is putting in to promote its new household waste services throughout Rodney and Whangaparaoa. Recent advisements running in the Rodney Times, and in a four page “Mahurangi Matters” pullout, the Council is spending our money telling us how great its new bins and services are.

What the Council isn’t telling you

We’ve been having a look at the Council’s waste services. Next month we'll publish a report exposing how the Council plan will dramatically increase the cost to ratepayers.  

In the meantime we thought we'd take a look at the area covered by the old Rodney District Council specifically.

Local Councillor, Penny Webster, was quoted in the Council’s advertising:   

pennywebster.jpg

"More efficient rubbish system for Rodney.

Several people have contacted me regarding the introduction of the large wheelie bins that will eventually replace the orange bags and smaller bins for rubbish collection.

This will not be introduced in Rodney yet, but is coming. Having standard systems for rubbish and recycling collections will be more efficient and cost effective.

Concerns have been expressed about long driveways especially in the country areas.

Having talked it over with my colleague Bill Cashmore from Franklin where they introduced parts of this in the former Manukau City Council days, the suggestion is that the large wheelie bin stays just inside the gate while the small blue bin can still carry the rubbish/recycling to it in the boot of the car. I have been assured it works.

Our research has found that the roll out of Council’s new waste plan will actually see Rodney ratepayers paying 50% more for refuse and recycling services.

Based on dozens of official information requests from the Council, and figures from Council's Long Term Plan and Annual Reports, we’ve collated the table below which shows the forecast movement of waste charges.  

Household solid waste costs (Former Rodney District Council) 

 Per household costs

2014/15

2015/16

2018/19

Targeted rate for solid waste for Rodney ratepayers [1]

$86.93

$103.23

$170.00

General rates, UAGCs rates penalties for solid waste [2]

$25.53

$31.63

$42.75

Private user charge (based on 52 bags at $2 per bag) [3]

$104.00 

$104.00 

$104.00 

Total household charges for solid waste services

$216.46 

$238.86 

$316.76 

Costs of Council intervention in the competitive waste industry will see total rates increase by over $100 per year to well over $200 per year as the plan is rolled out. On top of this ratepayers will still need to pay Council or private operators around $104 per year (52 bags at $2 each). Also, it appears that Council may be using some of the targeted rates (intended for recycling) to subsidise the Council's refuse collection (which is supposed to compete against existing private providers). 

According to Auckland Council's responses to our information requests, the average household in Rodney will be paying 46% more by 2018 under the new waste regime than they paid in 2015, or 32% more than what it costs right now.

Is this what Penny Webster meant by "efficient"?

The Council’s charges mean that the costs per household, on average, will increase by nearly 50% between 2014/15 and 2018/19.

The ultimate test for whether the Council's system is efficient is very simple - allow residents to opt out of their rates for the same service if they contract with the private sector. If the Council's services are the most competitive then no ratepayer will opt out. But Council won't let you opt out even if these services are being offered privately. This doesn't support their efficiency claim. The Council falsely says that its bags are cheaper than private alternatives but forget to tell ratepayers how much their rates will increase to pay for increased waste costs.

The current private refuse collection services allow residents to choose between various size bins or refuse bags. Private companies also provide residents with choice on collection frequencies from once a month or weekly. It is not clear whether Council will even go this far with their more expensive system.

Another example of why we need better local representation


The Terrible Ten 

Of course, Councillors Penny Webster and Wayne Walker were among the “Terrible Ten” who voted for Len Brown’s 9.9% rates hike. Click here to join our volunteer army which will be delivering leaflets in the coming months reminding voters of their voting record.

March 31, 2016

Exclusive: Auckland Council funding 250 organisations

Today we can reveal that Auckland ratepayers are being forced to fund some 250 professional associations and lobby groups thanks to the Council’s efforts to join and unduly influence the very bodies which seek to lobby it.

It’s bad enough Auckland Council is funding the Chamber of Commerce and the Property Council. Now we discover the Council is funding the Bibliographical Society of Australia and NZ; the Public Relations Institute of NZ and even the UK Institute for Archaeology.

We've asked, but the Council has refused to tell us, how much it has spent on the Property Council to date. It's not good enough. Ratepayers deserve transparency.

Ratepayers will be aghast to learn how many overseas based organisations the Council has been funding with locals’ rates. Why on earth is the Council funding the likes of the Institute of British Engineers, the International Society of Automation, or the Oral History Association of Australia?

No wonder Auckland planning is such a shambles. The tentacles of Council reach into every possible planning group effectively creating a line up of sock puppets.

Look at the funding of the NZ Archaeological Association for example. This was the group which first blew the whistle on the fact that many of the Council’s Mana Whenua ’sites of value’ in the Unitary Plan don’t exist. The group has subsequently pulled back. How can groups such as this provide the necessary checks and balances on the Council when the Council itself buys its way into them?

Today the Council votes on whether to keep funding the New Zealand Property Council, a lobby group whose very purpose is to hold the Council accountable on regularity and planning matters. How can they possibly perform their necessary function in an unbiased manner when one of their members is the very group they are supposed to be lobbying?

We are proud to be one hundred percent funded by our members and supporters. We maintain ourselves as a strong independent voice by not accepting a cent of Council money. Now we’re calling on the Property Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Business NZ to hold themselves to the same standard.

February 09, 2016

Eastern suburbs meeting - petition

western_meeting.jpgIn December last year Auckland Council announced zoning changes to many areas of Auckland. Many properties affected face having their zoning changed by Council's use of an "out of scope" provision that has not been based on public feedback, and on which the public has no right of reply. These changed zones will lead to dramatic increases in housing density in many suburban areas. The suburbs affected include Remuera, Orakei, Glendowie, Meadowbank, St Johns, St Heliers, Mission Bay and Kohimarama.

Sign our petition to tell Auckland Council to withdraw the proposed changes until we, the ratepayers, have had a say!

To sign the petition click here

December 17, 2015

Exclusive: Auckland Council hikes CEO's pay by 9.5%

StephenTownandBrown.jpgThe Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance can reveal that Auckland Councillors today approved a 9.5% pay hike for their Chief Executive, Stephen Town, at a public excluded meeting of the Councillors. The Ratepayers' Alliance understand that Mr Town’s salary will increase from $630,000 to $690,000.

We received the tip off early this afternoon, and subsequent confirmation from a person within the Council.

Ratepayers will be staggered that at a time when approval of the Council is at an all time low, it is rewarding its Chief Executive with a 9.5% salary hike. With inflation close to zero, and so many ratepayers struggling in the lead up to Christmas, the decision is grotesque.

If the Council was performing well, this could almost be justified. However with a the current economic climate, the Council’s sky high debt and seeming inability to rein in costs, there is no justification whatsoever for an increase of this magnitude."

It’s these sort of decisions which led to the formation of the Ratepayers’ Alliance. Len Brown has handed ratepayers a big lump of coal for Christmas and we need to stop this culture of extravagance and backslapping.

Tell us what you think by clicking here.

UPDATE: $690,000 confirmed

The Council has just issued a press release confirming that we were right. 

Media release 

Chief executive remuneration package decided

17 December 2015 

Today Auckland Council’s Governing Body determined a new remuneration package of $690,000 for Chief Executive Stephen Town.

The Mayor and Councillors received recommendations from the CEO Review Committee. Chair of the CEO Review Committee, Councillor Christine Fletcher says, “The Committee has reviewed Mr Town’s performance over the past two years. He is an experienced chief executive and has brought about some very positive changes at council.”

“Mr Town’s remuneration is aligned with the council’s focus on providing sound financial stewardship and doing more with less without compromising customer service, community and citizens. It is ensured our workforce effectively serves a diverse and changing Auckland.”

The increase will come into effect from 15 January 2016 and will be fixed for a period of two years.

Key facts on CEO remuneration can be found on Our Auckland here.

Ends 

Nice of the Coucnil to link to "Our Auckland" - the Council-owed spin machine media service.

December 17, 2015

NewCore shaping up to be a rotten deal for ratepayers

The NZ Herald reports:

A $157 million Super City computer system has a potentially "catastrophic" risk, says Auditor General Lyn Provost.

The NewCore system, the cost of which has blown out from $71 million to $157 million, also carries an "almost certain" risk with a "major impact", she said.

Last night, the council's chief information officer Dean Kimpton said Ms Provost was commenting on information supplied in May and the computer system had improved significantly since then.

If that’s the case, Mr Kimpton needs to stump up with new figures to dispel any speculation. It is simply not good enough to try and brush this cost-blowout under the carpet by saying “Trust us, it’s now under control.” Ratepayers deserve better, and councillors should be demanding more.

In the past few days, Ms Provost told the council's leadership and councillors the NewCore programme is an area of significant cost and risk to the council.

NewCore is considered key to delivering the promised savings of the Super City. It is designed to consolidate the outdated operating systems of the former eight councils, which merged in 2010 to become the Auckland Council.

It is ironic, yet worrying, for ratepayers that the very programme established to deliver the much vaunted efficiencies of amalgamation has itself cost more than double what was expected!

Ms Provost recommended council management review the risks. She also recommended management update the business case justifying continued investment in NewCore.

"Benefits are now forecast to total $58 million by 2022, whereas the original business case had benefits reaching $75 million by 2022," Ms Provost said.

Again the Council have over-promised and are set to under-deliver, with ratepayers picking up the bill.

A report to councillors in May made no mention of a "catastrophic" risk with the data issue, only that the "issues are being prioritised and addressed".

Last week, council managers gave councillors an upbeat progress report on NewCore, saying it was progressing well and forecast to be completed on time and on budget.

It looks like the the bureaucracy is working overtime to keep Councillors from asking the hard questions.

When ratepayers’ elected representatives are kept in the dark about such a serious issue, it’s a sign that there’s a significant cultural problem among Council officials. This needs to change.

December 15, 2015

ATEED to spend $500k on catchphrase

ateed-logo.jpgStuff.co.nz is reporting that Auckland Council's ATEED is to spend nearly half a million dollars on new look and catchphrase.

Auckland will have spent half a million dollars on a new image and catchphrase by the time its "Global Auckland" branding project is completed next year.

It will be money well spent, says the head of marketing for Brisbane city, which recently went through a similar exercise.

Auckland is aiming to develop a brand to help attract more international visitors, events, skilled migrants and investment.

Global Auckland kicked off in April, and Aucklanders won't learn what their new catchphrase is until mid-2016.

The job is budgeted to cost $480,000 in total, the city's economic development agency ATEED said. [...]

The question is, will ratepayers ever see $480,000 of benefit for a logo and catchphrase? We think not. When was the last time you visited Sydney or LA because of how its Council's busy bodies have crowned the city?

The first phase included more than 100 one-on-one interviews, focus groups, surveys and a digital campaign.

Out of that the themes and strategy were developed and tested on audiences.

The project team was now translating those into creative concepts, design and communication tools.

"ATEED is working to ensure that Auckland's new global identity is reflective of the people who live here by engaging far and wide," Bridgwater said.

The members of the Global Auckland advisory group are:

* Jane Hastings, CEO of NZME - chair

* David Downes

* Ngarimu Blair, Ngati Whatua o Orakei

* Heather Shotter, Committee for Auckland executive director

* Dr Sudhvir Singh, Generation Zero

* Michael Barnett, Auckland Chamber of Commerce CE

* James Hurman

* Tracey Fox, APN NZ creative director

* Karl Ferguson, Auckland Council communications and public affairs director

* Viv Beck, Heart of the City CE.

How the environmental group Generation Zero are experts in branding and international marketing we don't know and we wonder how much of the $480k these people are being paid.  Are they treating is as a civic duty; a volunteer role to better promote our great city? Or another ratepayer funded trough?

 

October 08, 2015

Our ratepayer plan - will you help us?

The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance was launched back in April to provide a counter balance to a Mayor, Council, and officialdom who aren’t delivering the value for money we were promised with the Super City

Now that we are six months in, I thought it would be a good opportunity to update you about our progress and our plans for the next 12 months. How are we going to force the Council to put a halt to the high rates/high debt and big spending agenda?

Progress to date

Our movement is growing.  We are now in excess of 14,000 members across Auckland. In 6 months that is an incredible achievement – for comparison, the nationwide membership of the Labour Party is only around 15,000. A big thank you to our volunteers who delivered 25,000 “Have you rates gone up” leaflets – the response has been fantastic. Thank you too to those who donated generously and made the leaflet drop possible. 

Arming Aucklanders with the facts

Len Brown wants you to believe that he needs to rack up rates by 9.9% in order to afford quality infrastructure. In reality, despite his new transport levy, Auckland Council is now wasting so much money Auckland Transport has less money to spend on capital works this year!

We need to convince our fellow Aucklanders that we can have both affordable rates, and decent infrastructure. To do it, we will continue to expose examples of the Council wasting our money – it’s only through exposing the waste that we demonstrate that the Council could very well trim the fat, without it affecting core services for ratepayers.

Last week we launched the first of our Ratepayer Briefings examining the Council’s debt since amalgamation. The paper is available for download here. It shows that:

  • Auckland Council now has $10.09 billion in liabilities. To put this in perspective, it’s around $20,000 the Council owes per Auckland household.

  • Auckland Council’s per capita debt is so high that Aucklanders are in a worse position than Kaipara ratepayers in 2012 (when Government commissioners were appointed).

  • Despite record low interest rates, the Council's finance costs in 2014/15 amounted to $422 million. The Council's books are extremely vulnerable when the rates inevitably rise.

  • Len Brown’s fiscal management has increased total liabilities by 60% in the last 5 years and 15% in the last 12 months alone.

Leighton Smith picked up on our paper – you can listen to Leighton's comments here.

The 2017 elections – an opportunity for change

As a politically independent group we are not going to be running our own candidates at next years election. Instead we're going to be asking every Council and Mayoral candidate (regardless of their political affiliation) to sign a "Ratepayer Protection Pledge" - the pledge will ensure that Aucklanders know who will put an end to 9.9% rate hikes (and who won’t). The pledge will also serve as a very public commitment that the we can use to hold elected officials to account.

In addition, for the run up to the elections next year, we want to have the following in place: 

  • Leaflets ready to drop into every letterbox in the areas represented by the "Terrible Ten" Councillors who voted for the 9.9% rates. This will remind voters that these Councillors worked with Len Brown to replace his 2.5% rates rise cap with the 9.9% broken promise.

  • A mobile debt clock that shows the amount debt is rising every second under the Len Brown mayoralty (and the per household cost). By taking the mobile debt clock to candidate meetings we'll make sure affordability and low rates are at the forefront of the election campaign.

To make these campaigns possible we need more members and more donations. We also need you to spread the word and encourage co-workers, friends, and family members to join us. Only with numbers can we ensure our goal of a Super City with reasonable rates and sensible spending is achieved.

If you would like to become more involved in the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance you can contact us here, volunteer here, or please take a moment to donate here.

Let’s make it happen.

Jo Holmes
Spokesperson
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance
www.ratepayers.nz

Donate Now

October 02, 2015

Ratepayer Briefing on Super City's liabilities

Auckland Council’s debt per person is now so high that it makes the failed Kaipara District Council look prudent, according to an Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance 'Ratepayers' briefing released today. The paper, by Moritz Miersch, reports on the total liabilities incurred since the formation of the Super City and compares the same to Kaipara in 2012 when Government commissioners were appointed.

The paper shows that:

  • Auckland Council now have $10.09 billion in liabilities. To put this in perspective, it’s around $20,000 the Council owes per Auckland household.

  • Despite record low interests rates, the Council's finance costs in 2014/15 amounted to $422 million. The Council's books are extremely vulnerable when the rates inevitably rise.

  • Len Brown’s fiscal management has increased the credit card bill by 60% in the last 5 years and 15% in the last 12 months alone. It’s time the Council took responsibility for the tab it is leaving future generations.

Click here to download the briefing paper, or view below.

September 14, 2015

How many Council staff? Who knows?

Last week Stuff.co.nz published this article about the Council’s increase in staff numbers. It appears to paint a different picture regarding staff numbers to official information we received from the Council.

Auckland Council has around 200 more staff than it did last year, thanks to the city's rapid growth.

The council is about to release its annual report for the 12 months to June 2015, showing both its revenue and expenditure rose during the year.

This was because of Auckland's increasing population, council officers said.

The city grew by 45,000 people last year, up from an increase of 35,000 in 2014.

"Population growth has a direct impact on many of our our activities," Matthew Walker, general manager financial plan, policy and budget, said.

The council and its agencies, including Watercare and Auckland Transport, hired 208 more full-time equivalents (FTEs) in the 2015 year.

This amounted to an extra $63 million in staff costs, Kevin Ramsay, general manager finance, said.

Firstly, that statement must be incorrect. If the hiring of 208 additional staff members caused an increase in staffing costs of $63 million per annum, that means each of those new staff would be taking home an average salary of over $300,000! 

For example numbers of building consents went up 6 per cent in the year, meaning the council had to employ the equivalent of 42 more people in the building and resource consents areas to process them.

Auckland Transport, which oversaw big projects such as the rollout of the electric trains and the first full year of the integrated HOP passenger card, employed 116 more FTEs.

"That was a lot of people being brought on board just to increase that ability to deliver those services," Ramsay said.

Auckland Transport employed 116 more FTEs in part due to the introduction of HOP cards – cards which are supposed to automate transactions between customers and staff. With the introduction of a card to help streamline and automate services, ratepayers would expect staffing numbers to be reduced. Yet Auckland Transport seem to think the introduction of the simpler service is somehow justification for employing more people at the ratepayer’s expense!

Likewise water services provider Watercare employed 58 more FTES,  "just to literally serve, to operate, to maintain and deliver on that infrastructure".

There were also one-off events which required more staffing, such as the handling of a record number of submissions on the council's new 10-year budget, the Unitary Plan hearings currently being held, and the FIFA Under 20 and Cricket World Cups.

Nevertheless the council made an operating surplus of $80 million for the year, and its $2.2 billion spend on staff and suppliers was within budget, he said.

Staff numbers were still around 230 fewer than when the Auckland Super City was created five years ago.

Auckland Council can’t seem to get their story straight. Last month we received a response to an information request about staff numbers, which showed that the total FTE of the legacy councils was 9,430, while Auckland Council as at 30 June 2014 was 9,394 FTE.

The Council cannot seem to get their story right. On the one hand they are telling us that they employed 208 more FTE in the past year, which would take their total FTE up to 9,602. Yet on the other they are claiming that they employ slightly less FTE than the sum of the legacy councils (9,430).

Seems that the Council’s spinning, rather than giving ratepayers an accurate picture of staff numbers. That’s not good enough.

August 26, 2015

Len Brown responds to ARA criticism of 2am ticketing blitz

Auckland_Council_parking.jpg

Len Brown has conceded that the Ratepayers’ Alliance characterisation of the 2am ticket blitz in Orakei as “overzealous revenue gathering” was a “fair comment in the sense that it is unusual timing” during an interview with 95bFM this morning.

The 2am ticketing blitz saw residents along Apihai and Tautari streets in Orakei saw 27 residents fined $40 each for parking partly on the footpath.

Both streets are very narrow and residents suggest that parking partly on the footpath is a neighbourhood courtesy to ensure vehicle traffic, including emergency services, can navigate down the streets during the evening.

While the Mayor would not be drawn on whether Auckland Transport officials were wrong to be ticketing residents, he did say “It’s certainly an unusual time for our transport guys to be out and carrying their work in that type of diligent manner”.

Len Brown says he has requested a report of the incident and will look into it further. We’re not holding our breath for any reprieve for these residents, despite the Council itself being caught out a day later committing the exact same infringement on the exact same road.

How’s that for hypocrisy?

You can listen to this portion of Len Brown’s interview with 95bFM below.